Bud Hill was hooked on umpiring after his first experience at a game in Pittsburg, California.
“After the first game, it was in my blood,” the La Grande resident said. “I thought, ‘That was fun. I’m going to do some more.’”
Thirty-four years later, a ride that he’s done for the love of the game has resulted in the opportunity to call games at the Little League Softball World Series, which begins Aug. 9 at Alpenrose Stadium in Portland.
It’s actually a trip he’s made frequently in recent years. Hill said he’s spent about the last decade going to the event to volunteer.
“I just go and flip burgers for a week. It’s going to be home for me,” he said.
Only this time, he’ll be working a different kind of plate.
“The district administrator (jokingly) said, ‘You’re not doing that. Who’s going to flip burgers for me?’” Hill said.
Hill got involved in umpiring in the early 1980s.
“I was coaching my kids in baseball and softball,” he said. “They needed umpires. Someone lended me their gear. I fell in love.”
When he moved to Northeast Oregon, that love didn’t dissipate.
The chance to call a game at Alpenrose first became a possibility about four years ago when Hill had the opportunity to umpire the Little League regional softball tournament in San Bernardino, California.
Hill said to have a chance to call a game on softball’s biggest stage requires having worked a regional tournament.
“Once you do a regional, if you do good they put your name in a hat,” he said. “They go through and select who gets to do it.”
The softball tournament in 2013 was followed by the chance to umpire the Little League baseball regionals — also in San Bernardino, the next year.
“It’s pretty unusual to get it back to back,” he said.
Umpiring the baseball regional in 2014 opened the door for what is one of his top bucket-list items — umpiring at the Little League World Series in Pennsylvania.
“My big goal is to go do the big one back in Williamsport,” he said.
Hill has umpired both baseball and softball at various levels through the years, but mostly has called Little League games.
After years of being asked to, he said, he has called some high school games in the past year.
It’s not about the money for Hill, however.
“I do it for the love of Little League,” he said. “That was just to get some more softball games in.”
Hill has seen a lot on the diamond in more than three decades of games. He’s called numerous championship games and has had his handful of lengthy extra-inning affairs.
“I’ve had a few long 12-inning games,” he said.
As probably any ump can attest to, he’s dealt with his share of unruly coaches and fans. In 34 years, however, he’s only tossed one coach.
“I’ve had more parents (that I’ve) asked to leave than coaches. I don’t know how many,” he said.
Umpiring has also turned into an outreach for Hill. He recently had 500 baseball pins and 50 coins made that he gives out to players and umpires as an anti-bullying campaign.
Hill was moved to action after Jadin Bell committed suicide as a result of being bullied in 2013.
Though it’s not a blood relation, Hill called Bell his nephew, and wanted to do something for the cause.
“Kids in Little League like trading pins,” he said. “They trade coins (and) pins from different umpires, different states. I like giving them to all the kids.”
The pin, designed by Pat Hinton and shaped like Oregon, has Bell’s initials in one corner, and also has the phrase “Umpire Strikes Back” with the intent of conveying the message to strike back against bullying.
“I would love to see bullying come to an end. It’s never going to, but we can try to lessen it,” he said.
The pins are certain to be circulating through Portland as he takes the field this week, and could for years to come. Hill said he has no intention of stepping away from umping any time soon.
“Until my body won’t let me do it, I’m not quitting,” he said.
Someday, that attitude and love for the game may take him all the way to Williamsport, pins in tow.